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Cast of "Spring Awakening" in rehearsal. Director Paciotto's expressionist style employed a fin de siecle cabaret look in costuming and makeup. This pre-production photo does not capture the pastel clothing worn in the finished production.

"Spring Awakening" by Frank Wedekind
directed by Andrea Paciotto
May 6 to 16, La MaMa E.T.C. (Annex Theater), 74A East Fourth Street
Presented by La MaMa E.T.C.
Th-Sat at 7:30 pm, Sun at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm
Fri & Sat $20/tdf; Th & Sun $15/tdf, (212) 475-7710
reviewed by Melinda M. Guttmann May 8, 1999
"It is as if the audience were looking into a mirror that revealed their most intimate and secret memories. . ."of the explosive sexuality and passions of adolescence in Wedekind's Spring's Awakening, wrote Italian director Paciotto about his freneticially beautiful, post-modern, revisoning of a l9th Century German literary cabaret. For those who love European avant-garde performance art this production of an Expressionistic Theatre classic should not be missed! For those who want to experience the excitement of authentic cabaret, this production is thrilling!

Wedekind (1864-1918) although he lived most of his life in Munich, had an international background. His German had no regional root: he was schooled in Switzerland, and spent much of his life in colorful wanderings about Europe, including six months with a circus troupe. Director Paciotto's choice of a multi-cultural cast, and the performance of both diaglogue and songs in six different languages results a multi-layered explosion of deeply moving resonance. By exposing the universal elements of the morally repressive European culture of the 19th century, and its cast-iron molds of gender construction through this diversity; Paciotto links Spring Awakening, which is subtitled, a tragedy of childhood, to our own tragic awakenings. This text is historically the first Expressionist theatre work, and was greeted by bourgeois critics with such violent hostility and censorship upon it's publication in 189 1 that it was not performed until 1906.

This production is fresh, grotesque, tender, and contemporary--reminiscent of Pina Bausch's groups of childlike adults, dressing and undressing, playing powerful and sorrowful childhood games. The translators have kept the most famous scenes intact, and the use in particular of long passages in French , German, and Italian, give a diversity of gesture and movement, and reinforce the silent pain of failed attempts at communication which underly the wild sex acts, fighting and wrestling, and violent shouting and cries, of Gymnasium students, weighed down by the pressures of a punitive intellectual and moralistic culture.

The frame of the performance is provided the familier white-faced, charismatic master-of-ceremonies, of the decadent Berlin cabaret, dressed in a tuxedo, who delights audiences in the sanitized productions of Cabaret which have been major theatrical and cinematic successes in recent times. This m.c., however, is a woman in drag, the fictional-author with a typewriter, and the witness of the action: the abuse and cruelty of the adults, the horrors of the educational and reformatory institutions; and the pathetic naievity, elation and confusion, of the three main characters: Moritz, Melchoir, his best friend, and the young girl Wendla.

The rapid succession of scenes; the inventive choreographed movement; and the intense energy of the performers are riviting. The dark radiance of this work transforms agony into beauty with the harmonious, lyrical riffs of the live, mellow jazz band; with musical references to Brecht-Weil, and the 1920's, which reinforce the freshness and spontenaiety of Wedekind's songs for which he was famous in his Munich cabaret; and with the strident beats of the percussion intruments, the jazz artists reinforce the eruption of violence intertwined with the flowering of Spring.

The expressionist techniques of linking the mundane, to the magical, to the absurd are present in Moritz and Melcheior's ominous whispers of wet dreams, the fierce hetrosexual intercourse of Wednla in the haystack, the homo-erotocism, and espeically the tragic tone of the violence at the end. Moriz fails his exams, exclaims he is "dying of parallelograms", and moans "whipped cream" the sweet surface of the era of waltzes and pasteries, before he commits suicide by shooting himself in the mouth. Wendnla is seen naked, her breasts tinted blood-red, her stockings torn, beneath her long red dress. She believes she can't be pregnant because she isn't married, and dies in an brutal abortion her parents force upon her in order to bury their shame. The magic, distortions of the dream, another aspect of the subjective nature of Expressionism shockingly appears! Resonant of an earlier song, "the Queen without a Head", Moritz steps in phosphoresent black light out of his grave, holding his head in his arms, asking Melcheoir to join him.

Wedekind was influenced by Nietzche's plea for freedom through sexual emancipation; Strindberg's battle of the sexes; and Buchner's rapid,ragged, short scenes. His real name, Benjamin Franklin Wedekind, named by his father who spent sixteen years in America, links him literally to the rising sexual violence, suicide, and brutality of our present adolescents.

This is a rare opportunity to experience an authentic European literary cabaret similar to the one in Munich which Wedekind was associated in the 19th century; as well as the anti-conventional "epater la bourgeoisie" cabaret techniques of Tristan Tzara's Dadaist cabaret during World War One. I urge you to go to the remaining performances next weekend: May 13-16 at LaMaMa E.T.C. at the Annex Theater.

P.S. The German Expressionist Theatre movement was linked to the Pacifist movement during World War One. If you wish to protest the violence in the former Yugoslavia; you should join the Politics as Performance of the Women in Black. This is a pacifist movement, started in Israel in the 1970's; and in the Balkans in the 1990's. Women and Men dress in Black and stand in silent vigil stand in front of the New York Public Library every Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 pm. Participate in this loving performance for Peace! [MMG]

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